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The importance of biodiversity and our failure to recognize it

Barry Gardiner a UK Labour MP has written a great article on the importance of conserving biodiversity and  our failure to recognize it.

Over, the last three months, climate change has had 1,382 mentions in British national newspapers.

Yet, during the same period, biodiversity was mentioned just 115 times.

We have ignored the circus and focused on the side show.

Perhaps the reason why biodiversity has been ignored while climate change has been taken progressively more seriously is that the case for biodiversity has often been couched in emotional terms.

Well-intentioned campaigning organisations have fed us with sentimental descriptions of the polar bear, giant panda and blue whale.

However, these arguments for biodiversity have proven to be much less compelling for business leaders than Nicholas Stern’s report that climate change could cost us between 5% and 20% of global GDP by the end of the century.

Yet, the head of Deutsche Bank’s Global Markets predicts that our current rate of biodiversity loss could see 6% of global GDP wiped out as early as 2050.

Climate change does not just lead to biodiversity loss; causality works the other way around too.

That last point about causality is exactly the same point made by Wilson’s Law: “If you save the living environment, the biodiversity that we have left, you will also automatically save the physical environment, too. But If you only save the physical environment, you will ultimately lose both.

Gardiner continues:

Yet nobody puts a value on pollination; national accounts do not reflect the value of ecosystem services that stop soil erosion or provide watershed protection.

Economists call these externalities: things which we can take for granted and need not be ascribed a value. The economists are wrong. Unless we begin to value this natural capital in exactly the same way we value human or social capital, we will not begin to tackle the problem.

Isn’t it ironic that the UK has a treasury department that spends most of its time talking about over-leveraging in the financial system and credit bubbles, but cannot see the connection with a world that every year consumes resources that it takes the planet one year and four months to renew or replace?

The problems is that biodiversity is still left as the responsibility of environment ministers, who are usually relatively junior.

They do not have the clout to make changes across government policy.

Biodiversity should be, as climate change is beginning to be, a heads of governments’ issue.

Just as climate change has moved out of its environment cul-de-sac into mainstream government thinking to influence decisions on everything from transport to development and energy policies, so biodiversity and the ecosystem services they provide need to be considered in every government decision.

The issue lacks a body like the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) to provide scientific assessments and advice to governments and the public.

Most important of all, we need a global agreement with teeth to protect biodiversity that captures the imagination like Kyoto.

Of course this isn’t a new realization, and I have written about it before, but given the continued lack of attention on this subject, it deserves to be repeated.

4 Responses to The importance of biodiversity and our failure to recognize it

  1. Good summary. You may find these papers that discuss the economic importance of biodiversity of interest:

    Zhang, W., Ricketts, T. H., Kremen, C., Carney, K. & Swinton, S. M. (2007) Ecosystem services and dis-services to agriculture. Ecological Economics 64, 253-260.

    Gallai, N., Salles, J.-M., Settele, J. & Vaissière, B. E. (2008) Economic valuation of the vulnerability of world agriculture confronted with pollinator decline. Ecological Economics 68, 810-821.

    The latter paper estimates that insects services were worth over £122 billion worldwide, or 9.5% of the value of the world agricultural food production in 2005.

  2. That’s OK, it is a difficult thing to quantify though. However today’s decision makers only seem to be able to think in terms of economic cost, thus it is now an important branch of research.

    Here’s another paper detailing the flipside-the economic cost of invasive species: http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases…0420103542.htm

    “The authors estimate annual crop losses in the United Kingdom due to alien arthropods at 2.8 billion euros.”

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